Originality isn’t about doing what’s never been done in a strict sense, but it’s about the unique way in which each individual gives expression to his or her artistic influences. Quoting Jonathan Lethem, Kleon argues that “when people call something ‘original,’ nine out of ten times they just don’t know the references or the original sources involved.”It’s a simple idea, but not as simple as “copy the people you like” and you’ll be an instant genius.The kind of stealing Kleon refers to is not about pretending you came up with somebody else’s idea or just modifying a few details, but it’s about being strategic and selective with the process of choosing your influences, taking what resonates with you, making other people’s ideas your own, and being diverse enough to find unexplored points of intersection between your various influences.
If you fall in the category of people who want to write a book, learn an instrument, start a podcast, or do something creative, but you’re wrestling with the fear of not being good enough or original enough, Steal Like An Artist is a great book for helping you get started. It’s an easy read and there’s no complex jargon to navigate, but Kleon offers some highly digestible and pragmatic insights for the beginning creator.Originality is how you uniquely put things together. You didn’t create the alphabet, yet you have a unique way of using language that differs from your peers. When a musician composes a song, they don’t feel pressured to invent the notes on the piano or to create a new instrument. They can simply work with what’s already there and put their own unique twist on it.The quest for originality is a distraction. It usually leads to a self-obsessive focus on saying what’s never been said when all that really matters is saying what you believe, saying what you feel, and saying what you mean. When you first start doing this, you might not sound very original, but this process is precisely how you find your voice.
We are the generation that struggles to see both the problems and the possibilities for progress because our worldview is dominated by an obsession over what the people on the other political team are up to. We are the generation that refuses to acknowledge injustice because of a fear of how liberals will politicize the incident. We are the generation that refuses to acknowledge the beauty of self-empowerment because of a fear of how conservatives will abuse the message.We are the generation that has lost sight of truth because we’re too busy defending ideologies to have time for exploring new ideas, questioning our assumptions, and ridding ourselves of self-defeating beliefs. We are the generation that will do everything it can to avoid admitting someone was right if he or she represents the wrong party. We are the generation that will go out of its way to gloss over the wrongdoings of others if he or she is part of our own in-group.